Hands on: learning kinesthetically

Cary Academy uses JMP® to teach stats and to optimize admissions and class placement

ChallengeTo help students better understand how numbers are used in everyday life and to help administrators place each student in the right class.
SolutionCary Academy is using JMP® and JMP® Student Edition in the classroom and beyond.
ResultsIntroducing JMP to statistics students has engaged them in a complex field of study and energized their instructor, Simon King.

You never know how life’s next great inspiration will reveal itself. For Simon King, it came in the form of statistics – more specifically, statistics come to life.

Four years ago, King, a teacher-turned-school administrator, decided to return to the classroom. He accepted a position teaching statistics at Cary Academy in central North Carolina, a private school adjacent to SAS world headquarters for students in grades 6-12. Established by Jim Goodnight and John Sall, co-founders of SAS, the college preparatory school emphasizes the use of technology in the classroom.

“I thought, ‘I should take a visit over to SAS and see what they suggest for my class,’” King says. So he did, and the experts said, “Use JMP.”

It was the beginning of a beautiful collaboration among JMP, King and a succession of high school students engaged in interactive analytics.

The trick in those first days was to stay one step ahead of his students, which King did with the help of JMP training. He’s now been teaching with JMP Student Edition for several years.

Granted, it’s uncommon for high school students to use statistical software; JMP Student Edition is used mostly in college courses. But JMP makes it easy, and King’s students love it. “Visuals,” as one student put it simply, “they help a lot.”

As does being able to play with data.

King says that the interactive nature of JMP makes a big difference in students’ comprehension and retention. “It’s so much more kinesthetic, because, for example, you get to interact between the graph and the table, you can manipulate the graph and do different things with it. I think most of us are kinesthetic learners.”

King quotes Confucius: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

“That’s really what JMP promotes,” says King.

As for King, this interactive experience has been tremendously rewarding. “I’m not the same teacher,” he says. “It’s challenged me to rethink how I teach a course and set objectives, and how I want the students to think, as well.

“I’m learning from this experience every day.”

‘Game-changer’

Ten years ago, King had never taken a statistics course. “I was the math teacher who had to teach statistics because somebody had to teach it. And what it presented to me was a whole different world. Math and statistics are very different beasts. I became the teacher with the TI-84 graphing calculator. But then JMP changed how I teach.

“JMP is an amazing learning tool,” King continues. “You can explore statistical concepts, and the kids learn to use it very, very quickly. Their basic feedback has been that they absolutely love using JMP to explore ideas.”

King believes that playing is a good way to learn, so he designed early sections of his course, called Advanced Statistics and Analytics, to allow students to play with descriptive data. They apply population data to practice using visuals that tell the stories behind the data. They collect their own data and use JMP to explore it and to do the analysis and an inferential test. And they have fun.

A key asset of JMP, King says, is that it doesn’t require programming. “In my opinion,” he says, “if you have to program in a first-year statistics course, you deflect from the actual analysis and interpretation. You spend all your time coding and so little actually figuring out what the data means and interpreting context.”

Students are encouraged to be creative; their end-of-course project is on the topic of their choice. One student, for example, examined the Mozart effect – the theory that listening to music may induce short-term improvement on a task. The students put it to the test. While playing a memory concentration game, some listened to Mozart, others to white noise. They compared performance and analyzed the data with JMP, determining that there was no significant difference in memory ability, and that many studies of the effect were, in fact, inconclusive.

King is able to take his students in most any direction they want to go: “I’m certainly not limited by the technology. JMP is a game-changer.”

In a new world

King’s overriding teaching objective is to develop “statistical thinking.”

Most of his students won’t become statisticians, “But the way the world is changing – the way business is changing, the way that so much is changing around us – many people who aren’t statisticians are nonetheless using statistics.”

So while most students will forget, for example, how to calculate a t-test, “I’m trying to get them to see the world from a different perspective, to understand and respect data and to learn how to explore it – to find different stories in the data.

“If my students come away as statistical thinkers, I think that will improve the decisions they make in the classroom, in the workplace, in their everyday lives.”

King discusses with his students how the media present data in different ways – to create powerful images, to help drive a story, sometimes effectively, sometimes not – and how to examine these representations of statistics.

“When the general public is presented with a statistic, we don’t doubt it’s true,” he says. “I’m trying to get them to be critical, but not cynical.”

Improved placement

King has also found productive use for JMP outside the classroom.

When he arrived at Cary Academy, he observed that a number of students were initially placed in the wrong class level and had to be moved within the first few weeks of school, disrupting schedules and classroom dynamics as well. It struck King that analytics could probably improve the placement process, and he began to meet with parents, students, administrators and other teachers to get a better sense of the decision-making process.

“I realized that I was talking about discriminant analysis,” he says. But he also realized he’d need a strong visual representation – that most parties involved wouldn’t be interested in what’s entailed in a discriminant analysis. Box plots did the trick.

“I presented the visuals to everyone involved and said, ‘Here’s where this student lies. The choice is between a relatively safe life in Geometry or an Honors Geometry class in which the pace is faster and he’s going to have to work really hard and probably will still get a lower grade.”

Rather than relying solely on statistics to make the decisions, parents, students and administrators used the data as a starting point for a class-placement discussion.

Three years after moving to an analytics-enhanced process, only one student has been moved to another class for placement reasons.

And there’s yet one more application of JMP at Cary Academy: King is on the upper school admissions committee, which uses JMP to compare the records of applicants with those of current students. “We’re now making more informed admissions decisions,” King observes.

Lifelong learning

King believes JMP should, and could, be used in classrooms everywhere, both private and public: “JMP makes it affordable. It’s cheaper than textbooks. It’s priced ridiculously competitively. It’s accessible; it’s doable.”

A number of King’s students continue to use JMP after graduation, and some return to the school to discuss their experiences with him. That’s one of King’s greatest rewards.

“I’m teaching a course that feels complete to me. I’ve always enjoyed teaching, and I believe I’ve taught some good courses. But this is the first time I’ve taught a course where everything comes together, and I get constant feedback from students.”

And King continues to learn, too. In fact, he’s working on a master’s degree in statistics from Texas A&M University.

Exploring as he goes, King believes he can be a role model to his students: “Rather than just telling them to be lifelong learners, I can show them the way through my own actions.

“It’s been a fantastic learning experience,” he says. “Really, what it’s done is allowed me to rethink how I do everything in education.”

Simon King
I’m certainly not limited by the technology. JMP is a game-changer.
Simon King

Statistics Teacher
Cary Academy

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